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    Union Soldier's Letter Archive of Private Hiram H. Almy, Company F, 23rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. A group of 25 letters (in pencil and ink), including 23 from Almy to his brother and others, various sizes, from various places, dating from February 8, 1861 to November 15, 1862. Three of the letters are incomplete.

    Hiram Holder Almy (1841-1862) was born in Adams, Berkshire County, Massachusetts to Samuel and Julia Almy. He was employed as a clerk when he enlisted in Company F., 23rd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on November 2, 1861 at the age of 20, mustering in on December 4 of that year. He was killed at the Battle of White Hall, North Carolina, on December 16, 1862.

    Of the 23 letters in the collection from Almy, 22 cover the period of Almy's service with the 23rd Regiment. The first of these, dated November 17, 1861, a few weeks after his enlistment, was written to his brother James from Annapolis, Maryland, where the 23rd Regiment was stationed for a few months. Almy had few complaints about his introduction to camp life, stating that he and his fellow soldiers "pitched our tents about dusk, and I must say altho it was a cold night, I have not passed a more comfortable night since I enlisted...the bread we get here is as good as any I ever got at home and better than any bakers bread ever made and we have plenty of it too." Almy's views had changed somewhat by the time of his December 2 letter to his brother James, in which he criticized company officers, who "were all not what they promised at first to be....[1st Lieutenant C.H.] Bates is the best military man of the 3. [Captain George M.]Whipple tries to do his duty, but is not well schooled enough to act as an officer. [4th Lieutenant George R.] Emmerton...is good for nothing in the field. Bates instead of being obliging us crabbed & short, and does not care a snap for the comforts of his men." By early December 1861 Almy's regiment was in Newbern, North Carolina. In a December 7 letter to James, Almy wrote that "we rece'd orders today to be ready within 3 days to move 40 rounds of ammunition, 3 day's cooked rations and 7 otherwise. We are to leave our knapsacks, and carry overcoats. Woolen & rubber blankets, and an extra pair of socks. Knapsacks will probably come on the wagons, of which each brigade is allowed 30, extra ammunition is to be carried on the wagons." Whatever engagement loomed, Almy was acutely aware of the potential danger of losing his life. "There is a big work to be done. Since it may please God to make me one of those who are to fall, if it should so happen, I hope you will do all you can to comfort Mother."

    In a 12-page letter to James, dated February 9, 1862, a day after the Union victory at Roanoke Island that was part of General Ambrose Burnside's Expedition, Almy described "the severe battle" and "a glorious victory," that resulted in taking "possession of the Island and about 3500 prisoners with their arms, and ammunition, about 35 or 40 cannon, and a large quantity of army provisions." He then proceeded to provide details of the engagement. "We had about 10,000 men on shore at daybreak of Sat; we lay down on a sandy cornfield in rain till noon, eat about 2 crackers and begin our march with artillery. Ahead 25 is in advance, then other regts following in the rear. About 8 oclock the battle begins! The rebels had taken a position directly in our face, and had erected a masked battery of 4 guns across our path so as to rake us as we came up. They had about 15,000 men in line front of their battery. They had only one company of rifles, the rest had Harpers Ferrys muskets which could not reach us. The 25 opened the fight taking the post of honor and they sustained it bravely, firing at an invisible enemy, and 4 32 pd guns firing in their face. They fought like tigers, but coolly and firmly, slowly advancing and firing volley after volley...which fell around the rebels like a storm of hail....We had orders to march to the right of the 25th. In passing in the rear of the batteries of our line a perfect shower of shell, grape & canister fell among us shivering the trees and tearing up the dirt and water. All this battle was fought in a swamp....Many and many cannon and rifle balls came within a few inches of my head, but the first feelings I had worn off, and fear was not known." Almy ended his long letter with a claim that would, unfortunately, be proven wrong. "I now expect to come back safe, for having gone thro this bloody fight I cannot go thro a harder one! Thank God I am able to fight another."

    The Burnside Expedition resulted in another Union victory at New Bern, North Carolina, on March 14, 1862. The day after the battle, Almy wrote to James a detailed letter about the battle, "a severe struggle, more severe by far than that at Roanoke." As Almy and his fellow soldiers approached enemy lines, they were met with "a most severe fire of shell & canister & rifle balls...myself, Wolcott, Stone, [Dielly?] & one or two others were a few feet in front of our company, and had a good clear chance, we fired about 25 rounds....Two shells struck in front of us & burst about the same place & time, which made the ground tremble beneath us. A round 24 lb shot came from their right and rolled up in front of us & stopped. When we had fired about half our rounds we were ordered to fall back, this most of us did not like...myself & two or three others would load behind a tree & fire, fall back a few steps loading & firing as we fell back....We were ordered to cease firing...which we reluctantly did. We lay some time expecting the privilege to charge, and our officers cheered us, telling us to stand firm shoulder to shoulder, firmly to grasp our guns & run any one thro who opposed us." While describing the action, Almy criticized the 11th Connecticut Infantry for cowardly behavior and stealing the 23rd Infantry's glory. "Soon the 11 Conn [11th Connecticut] came to take the position we fell back from. Instead of doing it promptly they acted cowardly, laid down when even our cannon were fired, the officers about as bad as their men. We didn't lie down when we came intro line, no sir, we stood & advanced as we should & I don't think we suffered any more for it either....Gen [Jesse L.] Reno...charged once was repulsed & charged a second time & was successful. Then on our right either the 25 [25th Massachusetts] or 27 [27th Massachusetts] charged & were also repulsed, Charged again and beat thro them. The 11 Conn came in front of us were ordered on & thus this part of the glory was taken from us."

    For much of April 1862 Almy was hospitalized due to sickness, probably typhoid or yellow fever. In an April 6 letter to his brother, Almy lamented his illness and yearned for home. "Oh when will the war end that I may be at home to enjoy the comforts of home life where when sick I can get well, with kind attentions to cheer my hours of pain." After Almy returned to health, he worked through his family to get a promotion to the rank of lieutenant. He was bitterly disappointed when it did not happen, as he wrote in a July letter to his brother. "I was severely provoked, for I thought the chances nearly all in my favor. I can see nothing ahead for me now but...galling slavery under my present commander. The proposed project was my only ray of hope, and as that has failed, where am I, just where I was before, a trodden down private in Capt. Whipples company....It seems strange to me that a man who has seen service receives no favors while the 'home guard' men who know nothing about the duties of a soldier in the field are commissioned for their money!" His bitterness permeated an October 9 letter to his brother, when he wrote "Oh what a hatred is growing up in the hearts of the men against their officers. Bates dare not go home & Whipple dare not come back....Let me remain where I am to gather cause for revenge upon those who now have the upper hand of me, who have ridden me down and spit & trampled upon me." The final document in the collection is an extract from a letter of Joseph Carlton, one of Almy's fellow soldiers, to his own or Almy's father concerning Almy's death. "Almy was my friend.... I miss him very much, as will also the whole company. His last words were 'Oh Joe' and expired immediately." This letter is accompanied by a canceled postal cover, addressed to James Almy, dated November 25, 1862. Either this postal cover did not contain the extract or the official death date of Almy is incorrect.

    The 23rd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was an infantry was formed on September 28, 1861 in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. An ex-militia officer, John Kurtz, was commissioned its colonel. On November 11, 1861, the regiment left Massachusetts to arrive at Annapolis establishing Camp John A. Andrew and remained there until January of the next year. The regiment was made part of General John G. Foster's Brigade that moved to North Carolina with General Ambrose Burnside's Coast Division. The regiment took part in Battle of Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862 and Battle of New Bern on March 14. During summer and fall of 1862, the regiment was stationed in the vicinity or in New Bern, North Carolina, and engaged in three skirmishes. On December 10, it engaging the enemy at Kinston on December 14 and White Hall on December 16, where Almy was fatally wounded. After the battle of White Hall, the regiment was engaged in action in the following battles: Smithfield Crossing, Port Walthall Junction, Arrowfield Church, Proctor's Creek, Cold Harbor, and the siege of Petersburg. The regiment was discharged on July 12, 1865.

    Condition: The letters have the usual folds and some are stained and soiled. Some paper loss and separations in places, but otherwise in very fine condition.


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